It can be difficult, in these times, to maintain a sense of hope--as war, corruption, lies and injustices large and small loom all around, and outrage threatens to overwhelm us. You must feel, as I do--some mornings it's hard to get out of bed and read the papers or watch TV. But in these past weeks, as millions of us slug away, agitate, organize and mobilize, there have been some hard-fought victories to celebrate.
1/ The historic decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia overturning last year's dangerous FCC decision promoting even more extreme media consolidation was a victory for our democracy, culture and communities. The decision was a stinging rebuke to the FCC's stunning disregard for public participation in the rule-making process and for the importance of true media diversity. It gives all of us another chance to work for real media reform.
2/ The decision by a federal court to allow a class-action suit, on behalf of 1.6 million women employees of Wal-Mart, is a victory for labor and human rights. It is by far the largest workplace-bias lawsuit in US history and deals another well-deserved blow to Wal-Mart's efforts to portray itself as a good employer.
3/ The Supreme Court's decisions regarding enemy combatants was a resounding rejection of the Administration's claim that it is above the law in the "war" on terror. The decisions were all the more important given the history of judicial deference to the executive in times of war, and the fact that this same Court installed Bush in the White House --and is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. As our legal correspondent David Cole observed, the Supremes have "now formally reminded the Administration, it's President Bush not King George."
4/ It is now virtually certain that Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for an open US Senate seat in Illinois, will be the third African-American to serve in the Senate since Reconstruction.
5/ Bush's credibility crisis is growing. The latest New York Times/CBS poll says that Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, while the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that by a margin of 52 percent to 39 percent, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy. And just last week a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans for the first time believe that invading Iraq was a mistake. And every poll shows the right track-wrong track indicator--the so-called Dow Jones of politics--moving against George W. Around 20 percent more Americans think the country is on the wrong track than those who think it's on the right one.
6/ According to the Wall Street Journal, "...the American left is seeing signs of political revival." Among other signs, the Journal reported that The Nation's circulation has grown to 160,000, exceeding the subscriber base of longstanding conservative stalwart National Review.
7/ At its late June convention, the http://www.thenation.com/thebeat/index.mhtml?bid=1&pid=1515 "> Green Party refused to back Ralph Nader in his run for the White House--a move that reduces his chance of being a factor in this November's election.
8/ This past weekend, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 was the top grossing film in America. It's also already become, in less than one week, the most popular documentary film of all-time.
9/ Presbyterians select pro-gay leader: A peace activist who supports the inclusion of gays in the ministry was recently elected to lead the Presbyterian Church USA for the next two years. Rick Ufford-Chase, 40, has spent 18 years working on the Mexico border as a Presbyterian mission worker. He and his wife are also active with Christian Peacemaker Teams, which sends groups to areas like Iraq and the West Bank.
10/ Conservatives are repudiating Bush. Take the lead item from syndicated gossip columnist Liz Smith on June 29: "The very conservative columnist Charley Reese of the Orlando Sentinel is advising his readers to 'Vote for a Man, Not a Puppet.' Charley says if we vote for President Bush's re-election, we'll really be voting for 'the architects of war--Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of that cabal of neoconservative ideologues and their corporate backers.' (Why did he leave John Ashcroft off this list?) Reese now sees George Bush, the man he joyfully voted for in 2000, as an 'empty suit who is manipulated by the people in his administration.' Reese adds this damning phrase: 'Bush has the most dangerously simplistic view of the world of any president in my memory.'"
Bonus item: Al Gore has become a fiery populist oppositionist.
NOTE: We'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to nominate your favorite piece of political good news. We'll be publishing reader responses in the weeks ahead.
Bill O'Reilly spinning the news? Shocked? Probably not. But if you needed more evidence of how O'Reilly misleads his viewers on a network that (laughingly) bills itself as "fair and balanced," click here to see what happened to David Cole, a prominent Georgetown University Law professor and The Nation's legal correspondent, when he appeared on The O'Reilly Factor last week. (O'Reilly, by the way, told Cole that he would "never ever" be on his show again. "I wasn't sure to take that as a threat or a promise," Cole says.) Seems like the master of spin just can't stand being exposed for what he is.
This July Fourth, the pioneering Adbusters magazine is launching a blast of symbolic disobedience by highlighting the dramatic degree to which American democracy has been undermined and taken over by and for the interests of US corporations. Click here for five ways you can get involved.
The Bush Administration, in a stealthy move designed to minimize anticipated insurgent attacks, yesterday handed "sovereignty" to Iraq's interim government two days before it had been scheduled to do so on June 30th.
The premature hand-off--or what might be called a sovereignty scam--means that the Bush Team's PR offensive is certain to kick into high gear in the coming weeks. (When Bush learned that Paul Bremer had formally relinquished his authority to the Iraqi government, he added an Orwellian touch to a hand-written note that his national security advisor Condi Rice had just sent him. His note said: "Let Freedom Reign!")
Now more than at any time since Bush invaded Iraq, journalists need to give Americans a clear assessment of the mounting costs of this war. This is a great opportunity for the media to redeem itself for malpractice in the run-up to war when, as Washington Post ombudsperson Michael Getler wrote this month in a tough rebuke to his own paper---and the larger media world, "...the press, as a whole, did not do a very good job in challenging administration claims...Too many public events in which alternative views were expressed...were either missed, underreported or poorly displayed."
The costs are now detailed in a devastating report just released by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF). It is an extraordinary compilation of the mounting human, economic, environmental, security and other costs of this war of choice.
In human terms, seven hundred US servicemen and women have died since Bush declared "the end of major combat" in his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech in May 2003, while more than 5,000 soldiers have been wounded since the war began. Many of them, as Michael Moore documents in his provocative new film Fahrenheit 911, have lost arms and legs.The cost to the Iraqi people has also been tragic. Up to 11,317 Iraqi civilians have died in the conflict so far--many of them children whose only crime was to be caught living in the middle of a war zone.
In financial terms, the costs to the American taxpayer are massive. The US has already spent $126 billion on the war, costing every American family approximately $3,400 each. As the Campaign for America's Future recently pointed out, this Administration has socked it to hard-working families on two fronts: Bush passed his massive tax cuts that gave a huge tax break to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, and then when he went to war, he asked the same working-and middle-class families who bore the brunt of the tax cuts to pay for the conflict. Meanwhile, companies like Halliburton are making a mint in Iraq after receiving no-bid contracts from the federal government.
A new report by Christian Aid--a non-profit group that seeks solutions to poverty--makes clear who has been the real beneficiaries of the invasion and occupation. It shows that "a majority of Iraq's reconstruction projects have been awarded to US companies, which charge up to ten times more than Iraqi firms." (Also check out Naomi Klein's recent Nation column detailing how during the run-up to this "handover" the US occupation powers have been "unabashed in their efforts to steal money that is supposed to aid a war-ravaged people.")
By the end of 2004, according to the IPS/FPIP report, Bush will have spent approximately $151 billion to wage his crusade in Iraq. That money could have paid for 23 million housing vouchers for poor and working-class Americans, and given America's elementary school children three million new teachers. It could have provided healthcare for 27 million uninsured Americans and allowed 20 million more children to enter the Head Start program.
Floridians alone will have to shell out almost $8 billion to pay for W's war in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Bush Team is providing Florida only half that amount for initiatives in such vital areas as education, environmental protection and community block grants in a state where nineteen percent of the children currently live below the poverty line.
If there is any good news, it is that Americans are at long last recognizing that this President is untrustworthy and dishonest. Today, the latest New York Times/CBS poll was released showing that Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, while the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that by a margin of 52 percent to 39 percent, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy. And just last week a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans for the first time believe that invading Iraq was a mistake.
More and more Americans are understanding that the country is paying a very high price for this war and occupation and that this "war" president hoodwinked both Congress and the people.
Sanity prevailed at the Green Party Convention this weekend as its members rejected the entreaties of Ralph Nader's running mate Peter Camejo to vote for "no nominee." The Greens rank-and-file instead nominated Texas attorney David Cobb as its candidate for president Saturday, rebuffing Nader's efforts to secure the party's formal endorsement and likely access to the ballot in key states like Wisconsin and California.
Though no fan of John Kerry, Cobb's strategy for "smart growth" for the Green Party calls for him to aggressively campaign for votes only in safe states while advising party members to essentially vote for Kerry in the ten or so states he considers the battlegrounds which will decide this November's presidential election. This Green candidate understands that Kerry is an imperfect candidate; but he is sane enough to make the clear distinction between imperfection and a candidate like George Bush who, as he says, "is a genuine threat to the planet."
Cobb's strategy jibes with a new grassroots campaign that launched just days before the Green Convention in Milwaukee. "Greens for Kerry" urges former Nader voters and Greens in swing states to unite to defeat Bush by voting for the Democrat's candidate.
"While we acknowledge some policy disagreements with Kerry," the founding statement of Greens for Kerry reads, "we believe that the threat posed by another four years of George Bush endangers our country, the world and many of the gains that progressive and grassroots movements have achieved over the past century, including women's rights, environmental protection, social justice, minority rights, and many more. What's worse, if a Nader or Green Party run helps Bush win a second term, the Green Party itself will suffer, which we certainly don't want to happen."
The campaign, launched by registered Green Party member and former Nader campaign volunteer Sarah Newman, has set a goal of gathering a minimum of 10,000 signatures on its website pledging support for Kerry in battleground states. (Click here for info.)
On related fronts, recent attempts to stop Nader included the Arizona Democratic Party's effort to block him from getting on the state ballot, and the Congressional Black Caucus uniformly and heatedly asking him to withdraw from the race rather than take votes away from Kerry. (Nader testily rejected their request.)
Perhaps the most extreme suggestion could be found in last week's "Boondocks"-- Aaron McGruder's brilliant comic strip. "We Must Stop Ralph Nader," Mr. Dubois tells Huey. "We must do everything in our power to band together as freedom-loving liberals and stop this man." But kidnapping? Check out last week's strip for the details.
MILWAUKEE--After twice seeking the presidency as the nominee of the Green Party, and playing a critical role in building it into a force capable of delivering almost two-dozen state ballot lines and a nationwide infrastructure of volunteers, Ralph Nader turned his back on the party and announced earlier this year that he would mount an independent campaign for the nation's top job. As that campaign struggled to gain ballot lines and volunteer support, however, it began to look as if Nader could use the help of the Greens. Thus, with party delegates gathering here for Saturday's national convention vote on who to back for the presidency, Nader and his backers made what at times looked like a frantic attempt to secure the endorsement of the Greens.
On the eve of the convention, Nader selected a prominent Green, two-time California gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo, as his vice-presidential running mate. Though he did not make a formal bid for the party's nomination, he signaled that he wanted its endorsement. He expressed sympathy with the party platform. His backers flooded the convention hotel and hall with green-and-yellow "Nader/Camejo 2004" posters and, on the night before the presidential vote, Nader spoke by phone to a rally where the crowd chanted "Run Ralph Run."
It was too little, too late.
The convention rejected proposals that it endorse Nader and instead nominated David Cobb, a lawyer and anticorporate activist who had mounted a full-fledged campaign for the party's nod. The contest was reasonably close. Cobb won 408 votes in the second round of balloting--twenty-three more than half those cast--to secure the nomination. In that round, 308 votes were cast for no nomination. If the "no nomination" option had prevailed, it was expected that the convention would then vote to endorse Nader's independent candidacy.
Cobb, who played an active role in Nader's 2000 campaign, was generous in victory. "Ralph Nader has had more influence on my life than anyone who is not a direct relative. I am a lawyer because of Ralph Nader. Without Ralph Nader, this nomination wouldn't have happened," Cobb told delegates gathered at the Midwest Express Center in downtown Milwaukee. "Ralph, if you are watching, thank you for what you have done, and thank you for what you will continue to do."
Warm words for Nader were common at a convention where some delegates held signs that read, "Where is Ralph?" Few doubted that Nader could have secured the nomination if he had not shunned the party during the first months of his candidacy. "If Ralph had made a serious effort to win the nomination, he would have won it," said Medea Benjamin, a nationally recognized peace and economic justice activist who campaigned with Nader in 2000, when she was the Green Party nominee for a California US Senate seat. "But he didn't even show up. I think a lot of Greens felt that he was taking them for granted."
Benjamin backed Cobb, who unlike Nader is a member of the Green Party. Cobb said his primary goal was to built the Green Party for the long term. At the same time, he promised to avoid running a campaign where he could be accused of "spoiling" the contest between President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry by drawing votes from Democrat is key states and throwing the election to the Republican--as critics claim Nader did in 2000.
While Cobb criticized Kerry's "corporate agenda," he promised to "honestly tell the American people that George W. Bush is even more dangerous than John Kerry."
Practically, Cobb plans to campaign for Green candidates in all fifty states, but only to aggressively seek votes for himself in the roughly forty states where the Bush-Kerry contest is not expected to be close.
That commitment distinguished Cobb from Nader. But, in the end, it was Nader's neglect--until the last minute--of the party that had twice run him for the presidency that Benjamin and others said did him the most damage.
"If he would have come here, he would have been a shoo-in," Rick Otten, an Ohio delegate, said of Nader.
There was also a sense among many of the delegates that, while Nader was a bigger name, Cobb would be more serious about the work of party building. "This feels right," Minnesota Green Party activist Annie Young, who backed Cobb, told a reporter. "This is about building the party. We've broken our leash with Ralph Nader. Now we're ready to go out on our own and see what we can do."
Nader, who continues to show well in many polls, is much better known than Cobb--and that is likely to remain the case through the November election. But Cobb could end up on more state ballots than the veteran consumer activist. The Greens already have ballot lines in twenty-two states and the District of Columbia. Party volunteers will work to get Cobb on more ballots. But some of the most serious hurdles have already been cleared. For instance, the Green nomination automatically secures Cobb a place on the ballot in California, the nation's most populous state.
On the other hand, Nader's campaign will have to scramble to gather the more than 150,000 signatures that are required to get the name of an independent on this year's California ballot.
Is it any surprise that the publication of Clinton's memoir My Life has revived the vitriolic bleating from those on the right who just can't seem to stop salivating over blue dresses and beret-wearing interns ?
But if these self-appointed morality police were truly committed to upholding ethics and promoting values in government, they would begin challenging the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is hands down one of the most corrupt politicians in the United States.
"The Hammer"--DeLay got that nickname because he runs the US House of Representatives with an iron fist--has allegedly bribed his GOP colleagues to win their votes for legislation that he desperately wanted to pass in the House. He's engaged in quid pro quos with corporations seeking legislative favors, and violated campaign finance laws in Texas during the 2002 state house election contests. Now, after a seven-year truce in the US House that discouraged members from filing ethics charges against one another, Rep. Chris Bell has gone to the ethics committee and filed a 187-page bombshell charging that DeLay engaged in extortion, money-laundering and other abuses of power.
Just this week, the ethics committee said that Bell had met the criteria for filing a complaint, and it will now spend at least the next forty-five days reviewing the charges that DeLay violated the house's ethics rules. Bell called the committee's decision "an important first step in the long journey to restore integrity and ethics to the people's House and to hold the House majority leader accountable for his actions." He received a riproaring (standing) ovation from the Democratic Caucus this week, winning a tacit endorsement from colleagues in his ongoing battle to hold DeLay accountable.
Bell, who lost his seat in Texas after DeLay rammed through his undemocratic statewide redistricting plan designed to help Republicans hold on to power there, has taken a bold stand. But kudos must also be given to the courageous folks at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington who have been filing complaints against DeLay and shining a spotlight on his transgressions for many months now. CREW bills itself as a non-partisan watchdog group established to use litigation to help ordinary people against unscrupulous government officials. "Of course, we should have high standards for government leaders," CREW's mission statement notes, "but the greatest danger to democracy is posed not by the personal peccadilloes of government leaders, but rather, public policy unduly influenced by special interests." Although it has adopted the model of legal advocacy developed by right-wing organizations like Judicial Watch and the Rutherford Institute, CREW has no political ideology, and in recent years it has stood alongside a bevy of brave souls, from columnist Paul Krugman to Democratic officials in the Texas legislature, who have opposed DeLay's brass-knuckles tactics and criticized the Majority Leader's illegal and undemocratic activities.
Thanks to Bell's complaint and CREW's persistence, Americans now have in their hands a vivid picture of corruption and ethical rule-breaking that belies the notion that this Administration and its Republican Congressional allies do anything more than simply pay lip service to upholding ethics and morality in the seats of federal power. For starters, the Democratic District Attorney in Travis County, Texas has convened a grand jury to investigate charges that "the Hammer" used his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, to raise millions in corporate campaign contributions and then spent some of this money on polling, fundraising and get-out-the-vote activities in violation of Texas law, which says that corporate contributions can be used only for general administrative purposes.
DeLay is also charged in Bell's complaint with extracting campaign contributions from an electric utility in Kansas called Westar Energy. DeLay, it's alleged, agreed to insert provisions into an energy bill that would save Westar billions of dollars. One e-mail that has subsequently come to light reveals that Westar's executives thought that they were buying a "seat at the table" when they donated money to groups with links to the Majority Leader.
Then there's DeLay's role in corralling votes on behalf of the GOP's sham Medicare prescription drug legislation, a legislative low point that occurred in the long night of Republican arm-twisting last November. According to the Associated Press, Rep. Nick Smith, a Republican from Michigan, said that unnamed House Republican leaders threatened to work against Smith's son (who was running for Nick's seat) unless Smith voted for the legislation. Robert Novak reported in his column that Smith was also told that "business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote." While Smith later recanted these allegations, his charges have the ring of truth, and they are in keeping with DeLay's thuggish tactics of forcing even his own Republican colleagues to submit to the Republican leadership's will on closely fought legislative matters.
DeLay's brazen attacks on democratic governance--a tangled web of truly scandalous behavior--are so outrageous that even conservative Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel has assailed the Republican leadership for fomenting an "anything goes" atmosphere: "I think we're on the edge of something dangerous if we don't turn it around.... It's like the Middle East. You just keep ratcheting up the intensity of the conflict." Real conservatives like Hagel believe that they should take responsibility for their actions. These conservatives actually value the rule of law, and they understand that the ends don't always justify the means in the pursuit of a radical right-wing ideology that serves corporate special interests above all.
Tom DeLay has never understood these things. He is committed to his take-no-prisoners agenda, and he sees ethics, morality and rules as nuisances that must be flouted, disdained and ignored. DeLay has racked up a record that demands investigation and action in the ethics committee and the courts of law. His scurrilous misdeeds demonstrate the yawning gap between a former President's private indiscretions and DeLay's dangerous violations of the public trust.
One of the big sports stories of the year was the Detroit Pistons' amazing upset of the formidable LA Lakers in the NBA championship series. Paul Richards, veteran Democratic Party activist and onetime member of the Montana House of Representatives, thinks the Pistons' win has lessons for his party in this November's battle.
What I Learned From the NBA Finals
(Detroit Pistons 4-1 over the Los Angeles Lakers)
* That ordinary guys who get in shape, hustle and persevere can win
* That blue collar workers playing pristine ball can upset spoiled rich prima donnas
* That reality can outshine glitter, despite all the PR to the contrary
* That dynasties can fail and storied empires fall
* That radical restructuring can occur at a moment's notice
* That hard work, courage and initiative can create windows of opportunity
* That if we play cohesively as a team and contest every single possession, we can dominate
* That, given the above, domestic regime change is inevitable
Former President Bill Clinton can add another line to his résumé: bestselling author.
Clinton's autobiography, My Life, looks like it could achieve sales of 2 million. It had topped the amazon.com sales list even before its release. And by the time it was officially available, at midnight on Tuesday, crowds were lined up outside the bookstores that were smart enough to stay open. Some even had to put on extra help to handle the demand, providing evidence that, even as an ex-President, Clinton is still better at creating jobs than George W. Bush.
But what is the significance of this latest bout of Clintonmania?
Clintonites will, of course, embrace it with delight. This is the moment they have been waiting for--the return of the king, the renewal of the dream, the restoration of the legacy. They will hope that, as Clinton gets more and more exposure in the days and weeks ahead, voters will recall the period of relative peace and prosperity over which he presided. (The Clinton defenders should also hope that no one brings up the damage that Clinton's misguided trade policies did to American manufacturing.)
Clinton haters will groan from their sinecures as Fox News personalities and commentators. This is their worst nightmare--the overshadowing of Bush II by a dynamic Democrat, the contrasting of the competence that was with the bumbling that is, the reminding of the citizenry that Presidents actually can be articulate. They will hope that, as the media focuses excessive attention of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Americans will somehow be duped into believing that Clinton's lies about infidelity were somehow more troubling than Bush's lies about weapons of mass destruction and other so-called "justifications" for war with Iraq. (It is a vain hope. Americans are smart enough to figure out that, as the bumper sticker reads, "When Bush Lied, People Died.")
For most Americans, who fall somewhere between the Clinton lovers and haters, this Clinton moment will, like the period immediately following Ronald Reagan's death, be a time for casual nostalgia. They will remember why they twice chose Clinton to be their President, and why they probably would have re-elected him if they'd gotten the chance in 2000. That does not mean, however, that they will run out and buy the book--let alone read it.
While some commentators, spying the long lines at bookstores and imbibing liberally of the hype, have taken to referring to My Life as "the adult Harry Potter book of the summer," Clinton's sales will never rival those of the boy wizard.
The vast majority of Americans will learn about the contents of My Life not by reading a copy but by consuming some of the constant coverage provided by the media. Those who purchase the tome are likely to sample from the text rather than read all 957 pages. Some of the few who make it to the end will react as did New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, who concluded that Clinton's book was "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull--the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history." Others will swear, as Clinton's defenders so frequently do, that they saw a glimpse of Camelot somewhere amid those many pages.
The fair analysis of Clinton's book lies somewhere in the middle. Presidential autobiographies generally fail to illuminate, and it appears that Clinton has maintained the tradition. There are few revelations in My Life. But, even if this book is not a page-turner, it does offer more useful insights into the first baby-boomer President's life and political legacy than even more self-serving memoirs did for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Clinton's recollections regarding the Middle East peace process are poignant; his comments on combating terrorism are more informative and instructive than the grumblings of President Bush or Vice President Cheney. And his complaints about the abuses of process and politics committed by not-so-special prosecutor Ken Starr and his minions merit repetition.
Ultimately, however, this latest Clinton moment will be just that: a moment. It is a summer break, nothing more. In a few weeks, the discussion of Clinton will fade. And Americans will focus again on the contest between Bush and Democrat John Kerry for the presidency. The suggestion that all this attention to Clinton will undermine Kerry is comic. Clinton is a more impressive figure than Bush, that's true. But so is Kerry. And a few weeks of focus on Clinton will, when all is said and done, serve as a welcome reminder that in the none too distant past the United States had a President who was competent, articulate and at least reasonably concerned about promoting international cooperation. It is difficult to imagine how that recollection will benefit George W. Bush's re-election prospects.
Wars do not happen on their own. They are initiated and prosecuted by particular people. This rather simple point seems to have eluded many within the offices of The New Republic. In an entire issue of quasi-mea culpa, TNR addresses the question, "Iraq: Were We Wrong?" In the good fashion of a typically fractious family (and that is meant as no insult), the answers from The Editors, Peter Beinart (the editor), Martin Peretz (the editor in chief), Leon Wieseltier (the literary editor), Fouad Ajami (contributing editor)--as well as the contributions from author Paul Berman, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria, Brookings Institution fellow Kenneth Pollack, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum--are often at odds with one another. Yet they generally share a defiantly defensive tone as they sidestep toward, "yes, but." Many boil down to this: "if the war had been run my way, then it wouldn't have been such a screw-up."
Perhaps. But this war was George W. Bush's war (and shared with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Condoleezza Rice). And the TNRers who favored an elective war at that particular time were also in favor of handing the keys to a rather expensive, dangerous and difficult-to-drive car to a man whom many of them had already pronounced untrustworthy on other fronts (the 2000 election, the tax cuts, etc.) This may have been the non-conservative hawks' most profound miscalculation. They were blinded by their own desires for war (for the appropriate reasons, of course), and their enthusiasm was not sufficiently tempered by a rather harrowing reality: Bush would have to be the one to get right the occupation, reconstruction and democratization of Iraq--a tremendously challenging set of tasks requiring intelligence, understanding, sophistication, concentration, and open-mindedness. Talk about naive.
The lead editorial does not address this fundamental error committed by the TNR's war boosters. Instead, the editors explain they had supported the war for two reasons: "one primarily strategic, one primarily moral." The "simple" strategic reason was that war was "the only way to ensure that Saddam Hussein never acquired a nuclear weapon." The moral cause was to rid the world of one of the "ghastliest regimes of our time." The editorial concedes that the strategic rationale "now appears to have been wrong," since no evidence has been found of an active nuclear weapons program in Iraq. Before the war, Bush and Cheney repeatedly claimed that Iraq had revived a vigorous nuclear program, but the evidence was weak. Remember the sixteen words in Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech? More importantly, Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had reported that his inspectors had "found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear-related activities in Iraq." The editorial acknowledges "we should have paid more attention to these warning signs." Yet it reports, "we feel regret--but no shame." That is because the "moral" rationale--liberating Iraq and countering "the forces of ignorance, fanaticism and bigotry" in the Arab world--has not collapsed. While this argument for war may have been mugged by reality, the magazine argues, it has not been negated.
But before the war, TNR had a different take. In an editorial posted on August 22, 2002, and entitled "Best Case," the editors dismissed going to war because Hussein was evil. ("He is not the only evil leader in the world, and we are not proposing to act against other evil leaders.") It pooh-poohed invading Iraq to bring democracy to Mesopotamia. ("But this, too, cannot explain why the absence of democracy in Iraq is more odious and more threatening than the absence of democracy in many other states.") But there was "one spectacular thing" that made the "villain in Baghdad" an appropriate target: "He is the only leader in the world with weapons of mass destruction who has used them....That is the case."
This editorial did not justify war--and the loss of American and Iraqi lives--with references to exporting freedom to oppressed Iraqis. Nor did it limit the "strategic" mission to preventing Hussein from ramping up a nuclear weapons program. The editors essentially accepted the core of Bush's argument: Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (which meant chemical and biological weapons) and he had used WMDs in the past (in the 1980s, while the Reagan-Bush administration was courting and assisting him). Today's TNR, for some reason, is not fully in touch with its wisdom of 2002.
In a subsequent editorial--"Time Out," posted on January 30, 2003--the magazine did focus more on the prospective nuclear threat posed by Hussein. But much of the editorial's energy was directed at "liberals" and "Bush's critics" for promoting "abject pacifism." This editorial did not address the concerns of war opponents who (with good cause) were questioning Bush's overstatements regarding the WMD threat presented by Iraq and the alleged but unproven connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. Nor did it respond to the arguments that Bush and his lieutenants could not be trusted to handle the post-invasion job correctly. Rather than evaluate--let alone ponder--such inconvenient thoughts, the magazine's editors preferred to ridicule opponents of the war.
In the current package, Wieseltier comes close to granting the opponents of the war credit--though he does not. "If I had known that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I would not have supported this war," he writes. He goes on to note, "But I was deceived. Strategic thinking must have an empirical foundation. You do not act against a threat for which there is little or no evidence. Yet that is precisely what the United States did." And that is what foes of the invasion said before the war. Numerous experts countered Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation at the UN Security Council. Skeptics--those who bothered to look at the hard facts, to review the UN inspections reports, to consider the available intelligence and pre-9/11 statements of the Bush administration--asked for the "empirical foundation" of the threat hawked by Bush, but the case presented by the administration remained slim. And Bush's melodramatic overselling of the arguments for war--his claim that Iraq was sitting on "massive stockpiles" of unconventional weapons, his assertion that Hussein was "dealing with" al Qaeda, his comment that it was possible Iraq already had nuclear weapons--justifiably enhanced suspicion.
Wieseltier does accuse Bush of misleading the nation. "There was nothing to preempt," he writes. "It really is as plain as that. An absence of regrets and recrimination on the part of a supporter of this war now amounts to an absence of intellectual honesty....Whether or not the president lied, he was not speaking he truth." Wieseltier reports he continues to support the war, but adds, "I have come to despise some of the people who are directing it." Bush detractors who saw through the mis- or disinformation can belatedly welcome Wieseltier to the club, though he is unlikely to celebrate membership in this group.
After you read this article, check out David Corn's NEW WEBLOG on the Bushlies.com site.
For his part, Beinart explains that his major lapse was that he tried too much "not to be partisan" in analyzing the case for war. He maintains he "distrusted" the Bush administration, but yearned to transcend that distrust. In doing so, he recalls, he could "feel superior to the Democrats." Now, he concludes, his "efforts not to be limited proved limiting." He did not realize that the Bush crowd would place "ideology over expertise." But there were obvious indications before the war this was Bush's M.O. His White House locked out State Department experts. Military predictions (and plans) that caused too much inconvenience were dismissed.
Prior to the war, Beinart questioned the critics (rather harshly) more than the administration he "distrusted." In seeking a partial explanation for Beinart's attitude toward the debate over the war, it is tough to refrain from referring to that cliche about Middle East alliances: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Thus, TNR ended up in partnership with--or a foot soldier for--a man it neither trusted or respected.
Juxtaposed against Beinart's I-tried-too-hard apologia, Peretz's onward-to-glory piece--no reconsideration at all--is refreshing. For him, the war remains "just " and "honorable" because it has brought freedom to Iraqis. He says nothing of Bush's prewar justifications. There is no mention of WMDs or the al Qaeda connection. He still seems overjoyed that the United States defeated an Arab tyrant, whatever may come next. But he is not entirely candid. "Alas," Peretz observes, "we Americans do not naturally look to history for cautionary lessons about the future. Had we done that, our post-Saddam expectations would have been different. But we didn't, and so we couldn't anticipate that the various peoples of Iraq, understandably apprehensive about anyone in power, would not take our good intentions for granted." What do you mean "we," paleface? Before the war, many experts on Arab history and society cautioned that this was possible, if not likely, and warned that the post-invasion period would be rife with exactly the sort of resentments and troubles that "we" have seen.
It is difficult to assess whether the mistakes of TNRers were prompted by hubris or innocence. Berman writes that he "tried to persuade people that severe opposition justifies intervention, no matter what other explanations Bush may have offered." Which means he was willing to cheer on a president who conceivably had a rather different vision of the war and suitable outcomes. Berman concedes, "military professionals can't outperform their commanders back in Washington, I suppose." That is little consolation for those who have bore the costs. Friedman reports that he never believed Saddam possessed WMDs "that could threaten us." But, he writes, "Once it was clear to me that the Bush team had chosen a warpath, I wanted to see it done in a way that maximized the chances for a decent outcome in Iraq that could help tilt the Arab-Muslim world onto a more positive slope." But this acknowledges he was willing to support a war based and sold on a lie and to back a "team" that would not be honest with the American public and the world. Can a war fought for the wrong reason by a bunch of dissemblers end well? Such a war does seem, at least, a riskier venture than a war fought for the right reason by leaders of integrity. Ajami writes, "For me, it was a just war that issued out of a deep American frustration with the 'road rage' of the Arab world." But how has this act of frustration addressed the rage other than to intensify and spread it? "We have rolled history's dice," Ajami writes. Come back in 20 years, he advises, and we shall see if we won the gamble.
It might take The New Republic that long to concede its opponents in the prewar debate were correct on key points. Peretz and several of his comrades act as if their post-invasion realizations are bolts from blue, when, in fact, they were the arguments they dismissed--or derided--when it mattered most. In this we're-not-sorry special issue, Kenneth Pollack's piece stands out. He recounts a debate he had in the fall of 2002 with Bill Galston, a University of Maryland professor and former colleague of his in the Clinton administration. Galston held up a copy of Pollack's book, The Threatening Storm, and said, "If we were going to get Ken Pollack's war, I could be persuaded to support it. But we are not going to get Ken Pollack's war; we are going to get George Bush's war, and that is a war I will not support."
Pollack says that several months ago he sent Galston a note conceding he had been right. "The primary cause of our current problems in Iraq," Pollack writes, "is the reckless, and often foolish, manner in which this administration has waged the war and the reconstruction....The thought that nags at me the most is that I, too, should have foreseen what Bill Galston did--that the Bush administration would not fight the war properly." He adds, "the willingness of members of the Bush administration to abandon their past records of prudence and match Saddam's reckless and delusional behavior with their own may have been the most important element missing from my own thinking about the war." Pollack remarks that he remains "deeply torn about the decision to invade Iraq." (Note to Beinart: how about a cover piece: "I Was Right," by Bill Galston?)
It may be too much to expect the (somewhat) hesitant hawks of The New Republic to have questioned the invasion of Iraq on the basis of eschewing unilateralism, abiding by interpretations of international law that proscribe such an invasion, or resisting a preemptive military strike and occupation until all other courses of action were considered and attempted. But there were plenty of signs (though Pollack takes issue with this) that the Bush administration was hyping the threat and not adequately preparing for the invasion and the occupation. And the clever thinkers at TNR should have been smart enough to have absorbed Galston's warning: no matter how clever they were, this would not be their war. It would not be fought for or on their terms. Thinking otherwise was their big mistake. The reluctant regretters of TNR were either duped by Bush or by themselves--or, maybe, both. They are not yet ready to admit that. Let's hope that matters in Iraq do not disintegrate to such a degree that they are forced to reconsider the limited extent of their regrets.
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